South Korean shipping company Keoje Marine Co. Ltd. and two engineers from the M/T Keoje Tiger pleaded guilty January 10 in federal court in Honolulu to environmental crimes violations, says the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to Environment and Natural Resources Division Assistant Attorney General Ignacia S. Moreno and U.S. Attorney Florence T. Nakakuni, Keoje Marine was sentenced to pay a $1.15 million criminal penalty, $250,000 of which will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as a community service payment for projects aimed at protecting and restoring marine resources in the District of Hawaii.
Keoje Marine pleaded guilty to three felonies:
- violating the Clean Water Act for the dumping of oily bilge waste into waters off Hawaii that may have affected the natural resources of the United States,
- violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for covering up the dumping of the oily waste by falsifying the vessel's oil record book and
- obstruction of justice during a U.S. Coast Guard inspection of the M/T Keoje Tiger in October 2011.
Keoje Marine owned and operated the M/T Keoje Tiger, a 4,228 gross ton oil tanker that brought fuel and supplies to fishing vessels in the South Pacific as a "floating gas station."
According to the plea agreement, during a voyage to Hawaii that ended in Honolulu on Oct. 12, 2011, certain crew members from the vessel knowingly discharged oil in the form of oily bilge waste into the exclusive economic zone of the United States in quantities that may have been harmful to the natural resources of the United States. This was accomplished through the use of a bypass or "magic hose" that was connected from pumps in the engine room to a valve that lead directly overboard into the sea, bypassing the oil water separator, a required piece of pollution prevention equipment. Oily bilge waste was discharged from the vessel routinely from March to October 2011. The practice onboard the vessel was uncovered by U.S. Coast Guard inspectors after receiving a tip from a crew member.
All discharges of oily bilge waste from a vessel are required to be recorded in the vessel's oil record book. However, none of the illegal discharges was recorded in the oil record book for the M/T Keoje Tiger.
The chief engineer of the vessel, Bong Seob Bag, 54, pleaded guilty to falsifying the vessel's oil record book and failing to record that oily bilge waste had been directly discharged into the sea. Bag was the senior-most engineer on the vessel and in charge of the operations in the engine room, and he was required to maintain an accurate oil record book. Bag was sentenced to three years of probation, during which he is banned from entering the United States.
First Assistant Engineer Dwintoro, 46, also pleaded guilty for his role in causing the oil record book to be false. Dwintoro was in charge of the daily operations in the engine room and on numerous occasions directed that the "magic hose" be hooked up to discharge oily waste directly into the sea. Dwintoro was sentenced to three years of probation, during which he is banned from entering the United States.
In addition to the fine and community service payment, Keoje Marine will be required to implement an environmental compliance plan that will ensure that any ship operated by the company complies with all maritime environmental requirements established under applicable international, flag state and port state laws. The plan ensures that Keoje Marine employees and the crew of any vessel operated by it are properly trained in preventing maritime pollution. An independent monitor will report to the court about the company's compliance with its obligations during the period of probation.
"Keoje and two of its senior ship engineers violated U.S. laws that protect our treasured oceans and critical marine habitats from harm," said Assistant Attorney General Moreno. "The shipping industry is crucial to global commerce, but it is also subject to U.S. and international laws that protect the ocean from all-too-common and illegal practices exhibited by the defendant. This substantial penalty should demonstrate to the shipping industry that those who illegally dump in U.S. waters, or who compound their crime by lying to the U.S. Coast Guard, will be investigated, prosecuted and held fully accountable."
"Enforcing the environmental laws in Hawaii is a high priority for this Office," said U.S. Attorney Nakakuni. "This case shows our commitment to aggressively investigate and prosecute violators of those laws. Further, this case will help us improve our environment by mandating that $250,000 of the corporation's fine be used to improve Hawaii's coral reefs. Overall, this case is an important victory for those of us who cherish Hawaii."
"The swift resolution of this case sends a clear message that the federal government is committed to protecting the marine environment," said Capt. Joanna Nunan, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu commander. "A substantial portion of this $1.15 million settlement will go to preserve Hawaii's coral reefs, while sending a stern message to potential violators."
The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency. The case was prosecuted by Ken Nelson in the Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice and by Marshall Silverberg, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii.
July 11, 2012